Perhaps more than any other fighter in the sport, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva can make even top class opponents look like they are not worthy of being in the Octagon with him.
Having never tasted defeat in the UFC, owning 12 victories in a row and having successfully defended his 185lb title seven times, Silva will rightly go into his next fight with fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort full of confidence.
Could over-confidence against an opponent of Belfort’s caliber cost him on the night though?
We’ve seen him toy with opponents in the past, almost as if he was bored with the idea of simply beating them convincingly. Against Demain Maia for instance he danced around the Octagon, beckoning him forward, taunting him and even slapping the mat at one point in apparent frustration at Maia’s cautious game-plan.
Fighting former light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin, Silva again taunted his opponent, and was so confident of victory that he simply dropped his hands and relied purely on his reflexes to avoid a flurry of punches before landing a simple jab that left Griffin splayed out on the floor.
In moments like that it’s mesmerizing to watch Silva at work. It’s also incredibly risky, but the evidence suggests that the long-time champion likes to live on the edge. Still, he usually reserves these moments for when he’s in complete control in a fight, but what’s more worrying is when he does it in moments of genuine danger.
Such was the case against Chael Sonnen last year when Silva surprisingly found himself in the rare position of being on the back foot after being rocked by a right hand early in the first round that sent him reeling backwards across the Octagon.
As Sonnen pressed forward and continued to find a home for more strikes, Silva made a remarkable judgment call. Rather than adopt a more defensive posture he simply dropped his hands, similar to the final moments of the Griffin fight a year earlier, almost deliberately giving Sonnen the chance to tag him several more times to the face.
It was as if Silva was sending a message to Sonnen that he could not and would not be beaten. He was proven right when he survived the onslaught and eventually went on to pull off a last-gasp victory, but it certainly appeared to be a moment when Silva crossed the boundaries from absolute confidence to sheer arrogance, and it could have cost him dearly.
While Silva undoubtedly has a stellar chin, it’s crucial that he avoids similar antics against Vitor Belfort on Saturday night.
Whereas many of Silva’s past opponents such as the aforementioned Maia, Griffin and Sonnen are not known as knockout artists, Belfort most certainly is – indeed six of his last seven victories have come by clean KO.
With Belfort’s hand-speed and power it would be a recipe for disaster if Silva attempts to indulge in such acts of bravado.
It’s not out of the question though. There is an intense rivalry between the two men, as is natural when you bring together two of the very best fighters from Brazil, a country that’s become synonymous with the sport. The title is all well and good, but pride as much as anything else will be at stake here when the two men step into the Octagon and the cage door closes.
With that in mind Silva would do well to remember the old adage that, ‘Pride comes before a fall,’ and allow it to serve as a reminder to maintain his composure, and keep his chin down and his hands up at all times.